Watching R-Rated Films Linked to Early Alcohol Use

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In various studies (of varying quality), violent, adult media has been linked to aggression, lower grades, early smoking, early sex, and antisocial behavior. Adding fuel to the fire is a new study that will be out in the May issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, linking the watching of R-rated films with the use of alcohol earlier in life.

According to BusinessWeek (via EW), the study surveyed about 3,600 middle-school children in New England, and did a follow-up survey two years later. Of the children who were not allowed to watch R-rated films, 3% had started drinking alcohol, whereas a whopping 19% of kids who were occasionally allowed to watch R-rated movies had started to drink. In addition, 25% of those who said they were allowed to watch R-rated movies “all the time” had begun drinking as well.

James Sargent, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School and the author of the study, commented that “the research to date suggests that keeping kids from R-rated movies can help keep them from drinking, smoking and doing a lot of other things that parents don’t want them to do.” He also noted that 90% of R-rated movies depict some form of alcohol consumption. “We think seeing the adult content actually changes their personality,” Sargent added.

It is very difficult for me to form an assessment of the study without actually having read it. But all the resulting headlines (BusinessWeek’s is “Watching R-Rated Movies May Lead to Early Alcohol Use”) feel a little bit sensational and inaccurate to me. Correlation is not causation, and causation is very, very difficult to prove in these situations. I’m curious how many factors Sargent isolated in his study. Isn’t is possible that lax parenting leads to allowing kids to watch more R-rated movies? Maybe lax parents are also more likely to have alcohol around the house in unlocked cupboards? And thus, it could very well be the parenting that’s at fault, or a myriad of other factors. Basically, it feels a lot like that Facebook/Syphillis connection that was made awhile back.

Whenever you see a media study like this, you have to be skeptical. This one is no different.

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